The Science of Perception Box

Scientific experts explain how each person's perception is skewed by various factors such as beliefs, biases, and narratives.

This series was developed in partnership with Big Think, visit the Perception Box hub on BigThink.com.

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6 min
Can you trust your own brain? A neuroscientist explains | Heather Berlin

Nothing is real and everything is an illusion. Neuroscientist Heather Berlin explains why that’s not exactly a bad thing.

Neuroscientist Heather Berlin likens each person's perception to a unique box shaped by their own experiences. Perception, Berlin explains, arises from a blend of internal expectations and external sensory input, creating a subjective experience.

Berlin believes our mental state can also profoundly affect our perception; a pessimistic mindset might skew it negatively, for example. The brain filters information, relying on preexisting schemas that can lead to cognitive biases. She notes that these biases can be altered through changing inputs over time, which can expand our empathy.

Understanding perception's illusory nature empowers us to shape our experiences and find joy despite life's challenges.

About Heather Berlin:

Dr. Heather Berlin is a neuroscientist, clinical psychologist, and associate clinical professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. She explores the neural basis of impulsive and compulsive psychiatric and neurological disorders with the aim of developing novel treatments. She is also interested in the brain basis of consciousness, dynamic unconscious processes, and creativity. Clinically, she specializes in lifespan (child, adolescent, and adult) treatment of anxiety, mood, and impulsive and compulsive disorders (e.g., OCD), blending her neural perspective with cognitive-behavioral therapy, mindfulness, and humanistic approaches.

November 20, 2023
6 min
Can you trust your memory? This neuroscientist isn’t so sure | André Fenton

There are three kinds of memory that all work together to shape your reality. Neuroscientist André Fenton explains.

Neuroscientist André Fenton discusses the intricate relationship between memory, perception, and reality, shedding light on the complexity of human cognition.

Fenton believes memories are not fixed but are continually modified by our experiences and mindsets.

This, in his mind, underscores the importance of humility and empathy in acknowledging the fallibility of our memories and the need to consider different perspectives in our quest for truth.

About André Fenton:

André Fenton, professor of neural science at New York University, investigates the molecular, neural, behavioral, and computational aspects of memory. He studies how brains store experiences as memories, how they learn to learn, and how knowing activates relevant information without activating what is irrelevant. His investigations and understanding integrates across levels of biological organization, his research uses genetic, molecular, electrophysiological, imaging, behavioral, engineering, and theoretical methods. This computational psychiatry research is helping to elucidate and understand mental dysfunction in diverse conditions like schizophrenia, autism, and depression. André founded Bio-Signal Group Corp., which commercialized an FDA-approved portable, wireless, and easy-to-use platform for recording EEGs in novel medical applications. André implemented a CPAP-Oxygen helmet treatment for COVID-19 in Nigeria and other LMICs and founded Med2.0 to use information technology for the patient-centric coordination of behavioral health services that is desperately needed to equitably deliver care for mental health. André hosts “The Data Set” a new web series on how data and analytics are being used to solve some of humanity’s biggest problems.

December 11, 2023
7 min
How to debunk deceptive emotions | Kristen Lindquist

Your emotions do not reflect an irrefutable truth. Psychologist Kristen Lindquist explains how important that is for connecting across cultures.

When it comes to obtaining an objective understanding of the world around us, emotions may not be as reliable as we think, explains Kristen Lindquist, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Lindquist explores the concept of "affective realism," a term that describes how our feelings shape our reality, both of which are influenced by cultural nuances. She unravels the connections between emotions, culture, and the brain, challenging the notion that our emotional experiences always mirror objective truths.

About Kristen Lindquist:

Kristen Lindquist, PhD. is a Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Her research seeks to understand the psychological and neural basis of emotions, moods, and feelings. Her on-going work uses tools from social cognition, physiology, neuroscience, and big data methods to examine how emotions emerge from the confluence of the body, brain, and culture.

January 8, 2024
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